Security will top the agenda when Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari meets with President Barack Obama in Washington today Â as the newly elected president struggles against worsening violence from the terror groupÂ Boko Haram.
Buhariâ€™s election in March was a historic occasion for Nigeria, a country which had never had a peaceful transition of power from one democraticallyÂ elected leader to another. He defeated incumbent Goodluck Jonathan largelyÂ on promises to expel Boko Haram and root out endemic corruption in the Nigerian government.
â€œ[Boko Haram] will certainly loom large,â€ says J. Peter Pham, director of the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council. â€œBoko Haram has proved to be once again remarkably resilient and lethal.â€
Just last week, 60 people were killed in two bombings in northern Nigeria. And, despite the transition in power, over 200 schoolgirls abducted by the groupÂ over a year ago remain missing as the government failed to locate them.
Buhariâ€™s office said the most important piece of his agenda with Obama â€œwill be measures to strengthen and intensify bilateral and international cooperation against terrorism in Nigeria and West Africa.â€
The Nigerian president arrives in Washington days before Obama departs for a trip to Kenya and Ethiopia. Pham says the fact that the Nigerian president is being received in Washington before Obamaâ€™s Africa trip signals the importance the U.S. places on the relationship.
â€œ[E]ven beyond the security issues of the Boko Haram threat, as Africaâ€™s most populous country, its largest economy, home to both the largest Muslim population in any one country and the largest Christian population in any one country in Africa, all of that makes Nigeria arguably the most important country in Africa for the United States to have a partnership,â€ Pham says.
U.S.-Nigerian relations were strained under Jonathan, who struggled to beat back Boko Haram for most of his time in office. Jonathan cancelled a U.S. program training Nigerian troops against the terror group and didnâ€™t respond kindly to U.S. condemnation of corruptionÂ in his government.
Buhari, a former military dictator in the 1980s, also campaigned on a platform to root out that corruption, so heÂ has yet to appoint a complete cabinet in order to take time vetting candidates. He has removed officials accused of human rights abuses.
Because of this incomplete nature of the Nigerian administration, Pham says typical precursor conversations for such a visit havenâ€™t taken place. SoÂ concrete action announced out of the meeting may be at a minimum.
â€œItâ€™s with a new team just freshly on board, meeting their U.S. counterparts for theÂ first time during this trip,â€ Pham says. â€œUsually these types of things are negotiated in advance and so thereâ€™s something to announce out of this summit, but as it happens these things are going to happen during Buhariâ€™s visit. So I think we have to be relatively restrained on what we expect. But the key is now the conversations are happening and are going to happen.â€